Preps for Airborne Toxins

airborne toxinsAs with any personal Emergency Prep plan, the operative word is, “personal”.  YOU need to decide what impacts are most likely in your area, region, house or business.  It is generally a waste of resources to prepare for every single possible impact in every category.

Each individual family or group also needs to determine how in depth they want to get into establishing  warning systems, preventative measures and responses.

Airborne Toxins covers any airborne threat – the air is unsafe in one way or another – and breaks down into three broad groups:  NBC – Nuclear, Biological and Chemical.

The likelihood of each happening differs greatly for most Americans.  For instance, you are more likely to be contaminated by an airborne biological agent (someone sneezing on you with a cold virus) than by nuclear fallout.

Biological runs the gamut from regularly occurring infectious agents such as cold virus’ and  influenza, to horrible pandemics such as avian flu or the Ebola virus, to aerosolized anthrax being disbursed by terrorists.

Chemical can be anything from a train car full of ammonia gas being released while traveling through your town, to choking smoke from a house fire, to professionals-turned-terrorist releasing Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system.

Nuclear could run from Fukushima-style power plant disasters, to terrorist nuclear “dirty bombs”,  to attacks by other countries and the resulting fall-out.

There are literally thousands of scenarios that could occur, but it’s unrealistic to plan for each of them.  Focus your plans on the potential impacts instead.


So, something bad is in the air and it’s headed your way.  What to do?

N95 masks will stop many forms of airborne biological agents, but are generally ineffective against most chemicals.  They are generally recognized to be ineffective for people with facial hair, as you are unable to get a tight fit on your face.  It should also be noted that a number of studies comparing the more costly N95 masks against standard surgical masks, showed that both provided about the same level of protection.

Gas Masks at their most basic level pass the outside air through a filter system to provide the user with purified air.  Depending upon the filtration media and staging, they are generally effective against both biological and chemical airborne contaminants.

Purchasers of gas masks must recognize that many airborne contaminants – primarily chemical – can also cause harm by simply landing on the person’s skin.  These masks only protect the air entering the lungs.

There are also air-assisted gas masks – such as those used by firefighters – which don’t filter the air, but provide a dedicated source of air.  There are “home versions” of these masks as well.

“Protective Suits” are the most extreme and effective defense against biological and chemical airborne contaminants, as they cover you head-to-toe, and protect the lungs as well as the skin.  Generally speaking, if a suit will protect you against chemical, it will also protect you against biological, but not necessarily vice versa.  The suits are also the most expensive solution.

You’ll notice that none of these mobile solutions protects you against nuclear/radiological.  After the shock wave and fire of the initial blast, the two primary killers – gamma rays and neutrons – require deep or dense defenses.

The idea is to place as much mass between you and the radiation.  If you’re in your home, go into your basement (you have the entire home above you offering some protection).  If you don’t have a basement, get to the lowest floor towards the center of the home (more walls and structure to shield you).  The same goes if you are in an office building.

Here’s a decent summary of chemical, biological and radiological Agents, Protection Required and Physiological Effects of exposure.

Regardless of what type of protection you purchase, be sure you are VERY clear about the ratings of the product.  Assume nothing.  For instance, not all N95 masks are equally made or rated.


Public television and radio are far and away the best warning mechanism, aside from witnessing an event in person.  Many communities also have Public Alert sirens which blare during an emergency.  My county has an automated telephone service that calls all potentially affected homes if one of the refineries (yes, we still have SOME in California!) or chemical plants has an emergency.

You can also purchase products such as Geiger counters and survey meters,  and key chain radiation monitors and alarms to have with you at all times.


Unless your plan is to live underground in your bunker 24/7, you can’t prevent the impact of an event which would release NBC contaminants into the air.

Limiting your exposure through a good warning system is your best defense.  Many communities now issue, “Shelter In Place” alerts when certain emergency events occur.

Each year, influenza immunizations are available throughout America.  You can also take potassium iodide to protect against some of the effects of radiation (thyroid cancer).


Your Plans

For your location and lifestyle, which types of impacts have a high probability of occurring?  Teachers and medical personnel might want to consider flu shots because of their constant contact with many different people.  If you live in close proximity to chemical plants, rail ways, refineries or any facilities that handle toxic items, you might want to consider a higher-grade mask or breathing system.

And you won’t always be sitting in your home when the impact occurs.  Incorporate “off-site” items as well.  Many Baby Boomers have taken to traveling the country in motor homes.  Be sure your RV or trailer has adequate preps on board for a wide range of airborne incidents.

Don’t forget to consider, “low probability, high impact” items.  If the local nuclear power plant blows up, or some nuclear country decides to fire off a burst to fry our electronics via an EMP burst, having potassium iodide on hand would be a low-cost, high-return solution (two weeks of exposure protection is about $10 per person).


We all need clean air to breath.  There is no single life requirement that, should it be taken away, results in our death so quickly.  Three or four minutes without it, and you’re dead.

How many of you have as little as a N95 mask in your car in the event you suddenly find yourself in some sort of toxic cloud?

How far away are the nearest railroad tracks?  Chemical plant?  Power station?  A manufacturing plant that uses any kind of chemical?

If an alarm is sounded, do you know what to do?  Where do you go or what do you do when a Civil Defense siren blares away?

Plan.  Now.


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